In my previous blog Canterbury Cathedral – A Shortish History, I promised that I would show you around some of the cathedral’s highlights, but before I start, I have to say right from the outset that trying to cover all aspects of a building like this in one visit is nigh on impossible, and not only that, ongoing restoration work always restricts access to somewhere or another, so bearing that in mind, here is a selection of what I saw and worthy of special mention, which of course, is subjective – so here goes.
The main entrance into the cathedral precincts is through Christ Church Gate in the Buttermarket. This Tudor gateway was probably built as a memorial to Arthur Prince of Wales, and according to cathedral records was constructed between 1504 and 1521.
Prince Arthur was Henry VII’s eldest son and destined to become king. In 1501 at the age of fifteen he married Catherine of Aragon but a year later died of an unknown illness. When Henry VIII became king after his father’s death in 1509 he took his brother’s widow as his wife and queen.
Note the Tudor Coats of Arms as you walk under the archway and through the 17th century wooden doors. The original doors and the statue of Christ were destroyed by the Puritans in 1643. The present bronze sculpture of Christ was installed in 1990.
What I like about Winchester Cathedral is not just its wonderful architecture, but also the human stories that have accompanied it throughout the centuries.
Architecturally, as soon as you set foot inside the West Door the magnificent perpendicular Nave stretches out in front of you right down to George Gilbert Scott’s ornate choir screen.
It didn’t always look like this though because the original Romanesque Norman church suffered badly from subsidence, and it took alterations from the 14th century onwards, firstly by Bishop Edington and then William of Wykeham, to produce what is my favourite style of church architecture.
If you can avoid the temptation to continue on down the Nave but walk down the North Aisle instead, you’ll soon come to the grave of Jane Austen, the author famous for writing such classics as Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Northanger Abbey.
It’s not surprising that many people want to see where Jane Austen’s final resting place is, but they would miss a gem if they went straight past the nearby 12th century black Tournai marble Font. It’s not just old, but unusual and interesting as well.
London is undeniably one of the world’s most important financial centres, and although the City of London has traditionally been at the heart of London’s finance industry, Canary Wharf has today joined it as a place to come where fortunes can be made or lost at the press of a button.
It hasn’t always been like this of course. The area referred to as Canary Wharf is located on the Isle of Dogs and includes the former West India Dock, the first dock to be built in London.
Built purely to handle trade with the West Indies, it still has the same basic layout as when it was built in the early 19th century, but the name ‘Canary Wharf’ didn’t come into existence until 1937 when a warehouse was built at North Dock to handle fruit from the Canary Islands.
In 1802 the North (import) Dock was the first part of the West India Dock scheme to be built, followed 4 years later by the Middle (export) Dock. The South Dock was completed much later and was never really intended to be part of the set-up.
I’d be the first to admit that Southwark Cathedral doesn’t have the immediate appeal of Westminster Abbey or St Paul’s Cathedral, but there’s something likeable about this church on the south bank of the Thames.
Ok, maybe there’s not the same amount of architectural or historical interest as the other two, but what it does have is free entry and a really warm welcome – and if you want to take photos just buy the souvenir guide for a pound and you can take as many as you like.
The Cathedral stands close to the oldest crossing point of the River Thames at London Bridge, which was literally the only way to get across the river from the south for hundreds of years.
It’s thought that there was a religious house here during Saxon times, but it was after the Norman invasion that a priory was built dedicated to St. Mary. It became known as St. Mary Overie (over the river), a name that is still included in its official name of ‘The Cathedral and Collegiate Church of St. Saviour and St. Mary Overie’. The dedication to St Saviour came about when it became a parish church after the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
Marble Arch lies at the junction of Oxford St, Bayswater Rd, Park Lane, and the Edgware Road, and it wouldn’t be difficult to imagine that the landmark once stood on an island in the middle of traffic mayhem. Thankfully, somebody had the sense to landscape the area around the monument to give it a bit more dignity, but it wasn’t meant to be here in the first place.
It was originally built for King George IV who inherited Buckingham Palace from his father George III in 1820. In 1827 his extravagant tastes led him to commission John Nash to add the arch as a state entrance, but within three years his own life had come to an end.
The monument was faced with Carrara marble and based on the Constantine Arch in Rome, but an equestrian statue of George IV was never added because the King’s successor, William IV, refused to stump up the rest of the cash to finish off his predecessor’s self-indulgence.
After the death of William IV in 1837 the crown passed to Queen Victoria who became the first monarch to actually live in Buckingham Palace, but she found it too small and began a programme of enlarging it. The plans included removing the arch, and in 1847 it was decided to relocate it to Hyde Park.
The transfer was completed in 1851 and the arch was used as a ceremonial gateway into the north-east corner of the park at Cumberland Gate – and a police station until 1968!
This Ancient Egyptian obelisk is one of three that were re-erected during the 19th century. One can be found in Central Park, New York City, and the other in the Place de la Concorde, Paris.
The London and New York obelisks are a pair that were originally erected in the ancient city of Heliopolis, and the one in Paris was also one of a pair from Luxor where its twin still remains.
The London and New York ‘Needles’ were erected for Thutmose III around 1450 BC and remained in Heliopolis (now swallowed up by the city of Cairo) until the Romans carted them off to Alexandria. It couldn’t have been no mean feat as they each weigh over 200 tons.
Research seems to suggest that the obelisks didn’t arrive in Cleopatra’s home city until some 15 years after she committed suicide, but I suppose Cleopatra’s Needle has a better ring to it than Thutmose III’s Needle.
So how come one of these 21 metre high monuments ended up on London’s Embankment?
Located slap bang in the middle of Theatreland, Leicester Square is often associated with the stage, but it’s the big screen that’s had the most influence.
Apart from being one of the venues for hosting the London Film Festival, it’s also the place to come if you want to see a film premiere.
There are several cinemas in and around the square, the most obvious being the black polished granite Odeon Cinema which has the largest single screen in the UK and more than sixteen hundred seats.
The cinema influence isn’t quite as strong as it once was though as things are constantly changing, but Leicester Square is still undeniably one of the main entertainment hubs in London. Casinos have a strong presence and if you want cut price theatre tickets the TKTS booth is the best place to come.
Talking of the theatre you can’t fail to notice the water feature surrounding a large statue of William Shakespeare which has been the centrepiece of the square since 1874. Nearby is a much smaller bronze statue of Charlie Chaplin portraying his film character of ’The Tramp’, which seems even more appropriate somehow.
“It’s like Piccadilly Circus round here” is a phrase often used when somewhere is chaotically busy, just like the road junction was until the layout was changed in the 1980s.
Up until that point the famous Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain was the central point of the Circus (circle or roundabout) where Regent St, Piccadilly, Coventry St and Shaftesbury Avenue all converged. Not only was it traffic mayhem, it was also (and still is) a meeting point.
It’s also where London’s shopping and entertainment districts meet, and in my own mind, I think of Piccadilly Circus as the centre of the West End.
The Circus was built in 1819 to connect Piccadilly with John Nash’s Regent St, but when Shaftesbury Avenue was constructed in 1886 it lost its circular shape, and now that the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain has been moved from its central position to improve traffic flow, it looks quite a bit different from its original creation.
The fountain, commemorating the Seventh Earl of Shaftesbury, was erected in 1893, and for years I was one of many who believed that the statue on top was that of Eros, the Greek God of Love, but in actual fact it’s his brother Anteros. If the sculptor, Sir Alfred Gilbert, had created the first Greek God, Chaos, on the top it might have been less confusing and more appropriate somehow.
I doubt that it was intentional, but the location of the Memorial to Edith Cavell seems appropriate somehow, standing just yards away from St Martin-in-the-Fields. At the same time as Dick Sheppard was keeping the doors open for troops returning from the WWI battlefields, Nurse Edith Cavell was helping Allied troops escape from occupied Belgium.
One of the most celebrated female figures of the war, Edith Cavell was born on 4th Dec 1865 in Swardeston, a small village near Norwich in Norfolk.
At the age of 20 she started her nursing career at The London Hospital (now the Royal London Hospital) and then went on to become assistant matron at the Shoreditch Infirmary.
In 1907 she moved to Belgium where she became matron of the Berkendael Institute in Brussels.
London’s foremost meeting point for social and political gatherings, Trafalgar Square takes its name from Horatio Nelson’s famous victory over Napoleon’s French and Spanish fleets at Cape Trafalgar in 1805. The battle cost Nelson his life and he’s remembered here with a 170ft column, at the base of which are four lions cast out of his enemy’s bronze cannons.
What started out as mews for the horses of Whitehall Palace, the area now occupied by the square was transformed in the early 18th century by the architect John Nash. It’s had several makeovers since, the latest being in 2003. The road between the National Gallery/National Portrait Gallery and the square was removed and replaced with a terrace making the whole thing much more pedestrian friendly.
I wouldn’t mind betting that the majority of visitors who walk up Whitehall are so focused on getting across the road to Trafalgar Square that they are completely oblivious to the fact that they are walking across the point that is regarded as the exact centre of London. It could be argued that it’s not the exact centre but it’s the point from which all distances to, and from, the capital are measured, and there’s a plaque in the floor to mark the spot.
I used to think that Charing Cross got its name from being at the intersection of Whitehall, The Mall, Cockspur St and The Strand, but it doesn’t. In actual fact the name originates from the Eleanor Cross that was erected here after Eleanor of Castile’s death in 1290. Eleanor was the wife of King Edward I who died on her way to Lincoln. Edward arranged a state funeral, and her journey back to Westminster involved twelve overnight stops, the final one being at the hamlet of Charing. A cross was erected at each of the stops.
London is blessed with so many well known parks and gardens that it’s easy to overlook some of the less obvious ones, even in the centre of the city.
In Westminster, next to the Houses of Parliament, are the Victoria Tower Gardens, and as the name suggests, are located at the Victoria Tower end of the building.
I think the word ‘gardens’ is a bit misleading because it has a large open grassy area more reminiscent of a park, but whatever you think this open space should be called, it’s a welcome respite from the area around Parliament Square with all its hustle and bustle.
The gardens were created during the 1870s, but not officially opened until 1914.
Apart from the fact that it has a great riverside location, there are some interesting monuments here as well.
Just inside the entrance gate is a statue of Emmeline Pankhurst, the suffragette leader. It was unveiled in 1930 and is a timely reminder that 2018 is the centenary of the ‘Representation of the People Act’ which granted votes to all women over the age of thirty and all men over the age of twenty one. (The difference in ages was supposed to ensure that men didn’t become minority voters after the huge loss of life during WWI).
Emmeline Pankhurst died on 14th June 1928, just weeks before the Representation of the People Act (1928) which also allowed women over the age of twenty one to vote.
There are any number of places where a visitor can start a tour of Westminster, but I’ve chosen Parliament Square, not least because of its proximity to two of London’s most famous landmarks – the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey.
To visit both landmarks will involve some planning and a considerable amount of time to do them justice, but visit them you must (check out my page on Visiting the Houses of Parliament).
The location of Parliament Square is busy with traffic as well as an obvious magnet for tourists, and if that doesn’t make it busy enough, it’s also a magnet for demonstrators who come here to protest outside parliament about anything and everything.
I don’t think too many Bristolians would disagree that the city’s focal point is ‘The Centre’. It’s where people have traditionally met up, maybe for a ‘Blind Date’ outside the Hippodrome or somewhere. It’s a good location for that sort of thing because if your intended partner for the evening didn’t quite live up to your expectations, then you could always dodge the traffic, disappear into the woodwork, and try your luck elsewhere – or so I’m told.
London has Piccadilly Circus; Glasgow has St. George’s Square and Bristol has The Centre! Not the most innovative name for a focal point I’m sure you would agree, but before you start thinking that it’s just an easy way to name Bristol’s city centre, the name is actually an abbreviation of the Tramway Centre that used to operate from St. Augustine’s Parade, and it’s not the centre of the city anyway.
This picturesque village with a population of less than a hundred, lies in a secluded valley under Buckland Beacon, just a few miles north-west of Ashburton.
A drive through the narrow lanes will bring you to a cluster of thatched cottages and an unusual church.
St Peter’s is a simple 12th c church probably built over an earlier Saxon one and still retains some Norman features, but what makes it unusual is the clock which was only installed in 1930.
Commissioned by the owner of the Buckland Estate, William Whitley, the clock was dedicated to his mother, Elizabeth, who had died the previous year.’, but instead of using numerals he replaced them with letters that spell “My Dear Mother”. If you take a closer look at my picture of the clock you’ll see that it was almost A past E when I was here.
The Hoe is one of the first places people head for on their first visit to Plymouth – and for good reason. This large open public space has one of the most fantastic views of any city in the country.
The views stretch out across The Breakwater and Plymouth Sound into the English Channel, and from Devon’s South Hams coastline in the east to Cornwall’s Rame Head in the west.
‘Hoe’ is an old Anglo-Saxon word meaning ‘High Ground’, and although it isn’t that high above sea level it still affords commanding views, such as those that can be had from the colonnaded Belvedere near West Hoe.
Built on the site of a previous camera obscura, it was completed in 1891 at the end of a decade that saw the Hoe change from farmland to a city park.
Below it is a former bull ring that is now a memorial garden for various veterans’ associations from WW2 onwards.
About 70% of Exeter’s city wall is still standing and although many changes to the wall have taken place over the years, it still encircles the city in much the same way as when the Romans built it to protect their fortress after they arrived in AD 55.
When they left in 410, the Saxons gained control and were forced to repair the wall in order to see off the regular Viking raids. However, when the Normans arrived, not only did they reinforce the wall, they also built a castle which had the job of repelling sieges and rebellions right up until the Civil War.
What’s left of the wall today is a mixture of stone and building styles from the Roman period onwards. None of the city gates have survived but the Visitor Information office in Dix’s Field provides a City Wall Trail leaflet that describes what’s left in more detail. Bear in mind though that the 2-mile-long walk isn’t as complete or as walkable as say somewhere like Chester.
If walking the whole of the City Wall Trail isn’t for you then I can recommend following the section from the city centre down to the Quayside. It basically follows the same route as Southernhay and can be picked up near to the Princesshay shopping centre or from the bottom of Cathedral Close.
This part of the wall is the most pleasurable to walk and there’s also something worth reaching at the end of it.